Book Reviews -- the Empire of the Eye: Landscape Representation and American Cultural Politics, 1825-1875 by Angela Miller

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The Empire of the Eye: Landscape Representation and American Cultural Politics, 1825-1875. Angela Miller. Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1993. 298 pp. Illustrations, some color. $37.50 cloth.

It is only one generation ago that scholars began to examine the American landscape as other than symbolic of God visible in nature or as the pictorial equivalent of 19th-century transcendental literary expression. Through the 1960s and the 1970s, the concept that the landscapes of Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, and their followers were reflections of contemporary ideas of expansionism and manifest destiny gradually took hold. Indeed, as recently as 1987 the Metropolitan Museum of Art's blockbuster exhibition, "American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School" and an essay in the catalog that accompanied it, discusses the decline of the school in terms of foreign training and travel, too much repetition of subject matter and excessive detail.

Miller, on the other hand, is one of the younger scholars who deconstructs the subjects of American painting, whether Genre, Landscape or Still-life, with an eye that is sensitive to the variety of points of view and backgrounds of both the artists and the viewers in the middle of the 19th century. While recognizing that the cultural leadership of New England and New York was pervasive and strong, she keeps a vigilant eye on that powerful regional bias when examining such written documents as criticism, diaries, essays, the popular press, sermons, and travel commentary. Indeed, one of Miller's great contributions is to point out just how suspicious the rest of the country was to the cultural hegemony of the Northeast; how much suspicion there was of the attempts of Boston cultural leaders to define the nation's culture through their eyes; the substantial but incomplete success of that leadership in bringing most of the country to identification with its values as the national ones. …